Monthly Archives: June 2015

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

Who Bought It?: Megan.

Why?: I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan. I bought it without seeing it from the $5 bin at the movie rental store I worked at.

Non-Buyer’s Response: This might be the ultimate “I can’t believe you bought this” one. “Hmm. A sobering, somber PSH movie about matricidal robbery that I’ve never seen? Sure. I’ll buy it.”

Megan’s Thoughts:

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is about brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) who organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store. The job doesn’t go well, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father (Albert Finney) and Andy’s wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) into turmoil. This dark, gritty crime drama has an all-star cast with an A-List director and a gripping premise. And while I respect the work that came together, the performances, the story…I did not enjoy this movie.

Frankly, it boiled down to one point over and over again: the timeline.

Director Sidney Lumet and writer Kelly Masterson made some choices with the flow of time in this film that had me aching and impatient. We continually flash back or forward to see each character’s arch in the days leading up to or after the robbery, playing on the same moments several times. We actually see the robbery before we see the characters decide to take the robbery on, which made me itch as we watched the brothers discuss their options and hum and haw, all the while I’ve known for 15 minutes that they go through with it. I have some pretty firm beliefs when it comes to flashbacks and playing with timeline in a feature and in general, I hate it. This was, unfortunately, no exception.

However, applause all around for the breathtaking cast. PSH’s manipulative, bullying manner over his brother contrasted against his absolute submission to his wife was nothing short of mesmerizing. But, is a great performance enough for me to keep a film that made me bounce my knee impatiently for 2 hours as we flipped and flopped in time? No. It’s not. No matter how perfect the scenes were when Andy went to his drug dealer’s apartment, or the almost-laugh-out-loud-in-disbelief moment when Gina asked Andy for cab money as she left him, I will never watch this movie again. I’m sorry, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s a TOSS this time.

Max’s Thoughts: 

I too have a very strict code when it comes to flashback/flash-forward scenes. I’ll just say Lost isn’t my favourite show. But the flashbacks and flash-forwards in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (BTDKYD), were great. They are exactly what flashbacks are perfect for: Illuminating those little cracks in human perception. They can show us how numerous people see the same thing, and that’s how it works in BTDKYD. It’s very much a flashback style cribbed from Rashomon. And I liked that.

The problem I had with this movie was the pacing. It was all kinds of wrong, which is almost to expect given the toying Sydney Lumet did with the chronology. Yet Pulp Fiction doesn’t have pacing issues. Memento, aka the movie that is only flashbacks, doesn’t have pacing issues. It’s doable, is what I’m saying.

Sydney Lumet was undoubtedly a great director, and this flick proved that, even at 83 years old, he still had a little bit of mustard on his fastball. The actors in his charge shine. Ethan Hawke is particularly bright, almost by way of how well he holds his own in scenes with PSH. Hoffman is such a scenery-chewer that he blows 99% of everyone he’s in a scene with right out of the frame. The guy played a freaking valet in The Big Lebowski and still managed to steal every scene he was in opposite peak-form Jeff Bridges. And yet Hawke, who’s character is basically designed to be overpowered and overwhelmed in every scene he shares with Hoffman, holds up. Marisa Tomei is OK (bonus: she doesn’t appear in a scene without showing her boobs until about 35 minutes in), and Albert Finney has straight up never been bad. In a way, the handling of Finney’s father character is why I think that while Lumet could still throw a fastball, he’d lost plenty of velocity over the years. Maybe the aging ace leaned a bit too heavily on his curveball – in the form of the Rashomon-esque timeline and obsessive portrayal of the Hawk/Hoffman fraternal bond – for his own sake.

Albert Finney’s Charles Hanson is the real protagonist of this movie. In about 20 minutes of screen-time, the skeleton of a really great movie about the father of two sons who rob the family jewelry store becomes visible. Without spoiling the ending, Charles’ arc is the heroic journey, and Lumet failed to fix this critical flaw in (I assume) Masterson’s script. This isn’t a movie about two brothers. It’s a movie about a father. But Lumet doesn’t throw 98 MPH anymore. So we got the curveball that was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. TOSS IT. 

Verdict: TOSS.

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Who Bought It?: No one!

Why?: It’s not on DVD yet!

Wait, what’s happening?: Max and I have decided that on top of reviewing our DVD collection, we should include new movies we see. Once we each give our opinions, we’ll both say whether we’d GET IT or FORGET IT (and this will hopefully keep Megan from buying every movie ever made.) So enjoy this maiden voyage of the DVD Expansion Project.

The Rules: Just like with the DVD Purge Project, for a DVD to gain a positive ruling (here: “Get It”), only one of us needs to vote positively. For a negative ruling, there must be consensus.

The Movie: Spy

Megan’s Thoughts: I walked into this movie with low expectations. I wasn’t a fan of the trailers; I thought it was going to be a feature where all the jokes were about how ugly/fat/uncoordinated Melissa McCarthy was. And I like Melissa McCarthy, I didn’t want to see her insulted for two hours.

Thankfully, my interpretation of the trailers was wrong.

Spy is about Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a deskbound CIA analyst stuck at her basement computer while she aids a top agent in his dangerous missions. But when her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) falls into danger and agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) goes awol, she steps up to go undercover and take down Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) before the sale of a nuclear bomb can be finalized. It’s a rock-em sock-em action flick where the jokes fly as fast as the bullets.

The cast in this movie is on point. I did not know Jason Statham could be so funny, and Rose Byrne brought sass and swagger to the evil Boyanov. Susan’s sidekick and (best?) friend Nancy (Miranda Hart) had me in stitches as she jumped into the action to assist Susan on her mission and, on her own time, chase after 50 Cent. Nancy might actually be my second favourite character, behind Susan Cooper, and I’ll be binge watching more of Hart’s work.

For the record this is my favourite Melissa McCarthy role so far. About halfway through the movie they unleash her character from the desk/beginner agent version that is given lame fake identities and wears a lot of cat shirts into an insult-wielding, gun-toting boss bitch so quick on the quips I couldn’t keep up. It was outstanding. It’s the same brand of insult comedy that I enjoy when I watch something with Tina Fey behind it.

Well done to writer/director Paul Feig, who also directed Bridesmaids and The Heat. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his next project if this is the kind of material he’ll be churning out. Oh wait, it’s the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters. I’m in.

Knowing that I missed some of the jokes because I was too busy laughing at the one previous, and needing to relive the airplane scene between McCarthy and Byrne again and again and again, I’d go ahead and say this is a GET IT for me. It checks a lot of boxes I look for (namely, female characters that don’t just talk about boys.) I’d watch it again for sure.

Max’s Thoughts: The CIA in the world of Paul Feig’s Spy is a strange place to work. One minute you’re helping a gorgeous field agent take out terrorists, the next an office bat gives you pink eye. Feig is no stranger to Melissa McCarthy, as Megan noted, and I think he really knows how to wield her. Most importantly, once that switch from meek desk jockey to “boss bitch” happens, he gives McCarthy a weapon she doesn’t seem to get to use enough: Her mouth.

So many of the roles she has been given/chosen boil down to “look at how fat this lady is!” Or to put it another way, I don’t need to see Bridesmaids to know which one of the bridesmaids poops in the sink. She does her fair share of prat-falling in Spy, but when push comes to shove, it’s usually Susan Cooper doing the shoving. Her answer to her blown cover is to insult her way back undercover. It’s beautiful at times.

Feig has as long a relationship with Judd Apatow as anyone in Hollywood, so it doesn’t surprise me that this feels like something out of the Apatow oeuvre. It ticks all the boxes from the brilliant character work of big names like Allison Janney and Jude Law to the random but effective 50 Cent cameo. Every bone in my body went into this movie expecting to hate it, almost wanting to hate it. But I laughed. A lot.

And for a comedy, that’s all it really comes down to. All that said, I don’t see myself watching it over and over, and when it comes to buying a comedy on DVD, that what it all comes down to. FORGET IT. 

Verdict: GET IT.

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airplane Who bought it? Max. This is a very special edition of The DVD Purge Project because I just bought this the other day (I had it on VHS) so it jumped to the front of the line because A comes before B. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead will have to wait.

Why? Surely you can’t be serious.

Non-Buyer’s response: I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

Max’s Thoughts: It was frustrating to watch this with Megan, because apparently I’ve spent the past 5 years writing comedies with someone who doesn’t understand how to laugh. She laughed out loud like… five times. FIVE TIMES!?!?! This is Airplane! The essentially-consensus funniest movie ever. I’m pretty sure this means Megan is legally dead. Or a robot.


The resemblance is uncanny.

That Airplane! is a foundational, classic comedy is such a fundamental movie truth, I can hardly see the reason to get deep on this one. So I won’t. One time I tried to count the number of jokes Abrahams and the Zucker Bros attempted. Every now and again, when it comes up, I’ll claim the number is something ridiculous. In reality, I lost count. That is the ferocity and speed with which this movie hits you with jokes. It makes 30 Rock’s “6 jokes per page” rule look like child’s play. Try 6 jokes in 10 seconds of screen-time. This movie is like a self-reloading machine gun that fires jokes. If 8 jokes miss, 3 will hit. It’s a film so ridiculous and specific, yet so broad it holds up 40+ years later. Fun fact: This was a direct spoof of a hyper-specific genre of movie that was basically only around in the 1970’s. They used to make these boilerplate “Airport” dramas where a plane would be in duress and yada, yada, yada. Basically what happens in Airplane! And people still find it funny despite never having seen Airport 1975 (a real, actual movie title)It was an otto-matic KEEP IT from the start. And I didn’t even get into the Kareem-eo (that’s cameo+Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It doesn’t always work).

Megan’s Thoughts: Max almost divorced me partway through this movie because I “wasn’t laughing enough.” Then I started nervous laughing because my lack of laughter was making him mad and I felt like I was ruining the movie for him. But he knew my laughs weren’t real laughs. It was a vicious cycle.

Look, it took me too long to see this comedy classic. Yes, it’s true, I didn’t see Airplane! until 2015. Most of the jokes I’d already heard in other context. And I’m not usually a fan of “spoof” movies. I don’t like any of those Scary Movie or Epic Movie or what have you – it all just gets too over-the-top for me. Comedy is hard. Even the best comedies don’t please everyone – and what does that even mean, the “best” comedy? There’s no formula, no rules, which is why I’m so addicted to writing it in my own screenplays.

I’m sorry, world. I feel like I let everyone down by not loving this movie. I picked a bad week to quit…ok, whatever this isn’t working. It’s a toss for me.

Verdict: Despite Megan, it’s a keep!